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As the clock strikes 12, the ball drops, the old year hobbles out and the new year bounces in, we inevitably start thinking about resolutions. This year will be different! This year, we will shed those pounds, get organized and make those extra dollars. We will influence the world for the better. We will develop those talents. We all have expectations and hopes for a new beginning. This year, why not focus on relationships instead of self-improvement? Why not try to help someone else find the joy we are seeking? Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.”
It is wonderful to dream of changing the world in faraway places, become a Mother Theresa or a Mahatma Gandhi, but changing your relationships at home will make the most difference.
Our relationship with our spouse is sometimes the most difficult because we come from two diverse backgrounds, and sometimes our expectations are worlds apart. Often, we give the things we need the most. Service and love get ignored because we do not recognize what the other one is trying to give. We are waiting to receive in the same way we share. I am waiting for flowers and gifts. He is waiting to be appreciated for the hours he spends providing for the family. I am waiting for verbal “I love yous,” and he’s waiting to be appreciated for all the visual “I love yous.” I am talking a mile a minute trying to solve his problems, and he is saying “I will feel better if you let me think this through. I can manage it on my own.”
He is trying to stop my tears and fix my hurts while I am wanting to feel the hurt and cry so I can release tension. I just need to be cuddled and loved. He tells me to sleep on the problem and it will be better in the morning. I want to talk it out because the problem is not solved unless I talk it out and analyze it. Sleeping only makes the problem bigger. It would be nice to have a translator in those moments when we are trying to serve and love so the gift will not be missed or go unnoticed.
Early in our marriage, my husband worked construction while I was a stay-at-home mom. We worked well together. I did the house cleaning, shopping and cooking because he was gone. At the time, we were living off the grid and had a diesel generator for electricity. One evening, my son and I decided to watch a movie together. Back then, you rented movies because the internet was a figment of someone’s imagination. I told my son to turn on the generator. He turned on the generator. I turned on the television. Within three minutes, it clicked off; no power. I went to investigate.
I tested the generator. The continuous whir of the starter told me it needed diesel. No problem! I watched Reg siphon diesel multiple times. How hard could sucking on a hose be? All he did was stick one end of the hose in the barrel of diesel, the other end in the tank and suck on the hose. Out came the diesel in a nice steady gold stream and filled the tank. I could do that! So, I thought. The hose looked too gross to put in my mouth. I made a cup around the end of the hose with my hand and sucked on my hand. Nothing happened with the first suck, so I tried again. Out came the little gold stream covering my hand with diesel. Victoriously, I put the hose in the tank. The diesel stopped. Undaunted, I put my hand to my lips again. This time the yellow film got in my mouth. It was awful! I already tasted the diesel. What could be worse? I put my mouth over the end of the hose and sucked. I gagged as the greasy diesel filled my mouth. I should have stopped there, but I am a persistent sort. I worked on the hose for about an hour. Finally defeated, I took my red gas can and went to town and bought $5 worth of diesel. I hoisted the huge can and poured it into the generator tank. The generator still did not work. I decided to wait for Reg to come home.
When I told him my story, he laughed at me. He could see I was offended. He smiled and said, “I only laugh because I have done the same thing. One of these days, I will teach you how to siphon.” By that time, I was not interested in learning, but I gained a new appreciation for my husband’s side of the world. He does so many things I take for granted. He changes the oil in the car, fixes the brake pads and checks the engine to keep it running properly. I realized that if I were to complain about how much time he does not spend cleaning the house, to balance the scales, I would have to learn to insert myself into his world and take responsibility for things that do not interest me. I do not want to fix the generator, the car or work long hours away from home. Keeping house is my cup of tea. Building relationships with a spouse comes down to recognizing what the other is doing that is comparable to what you are doing and appreciating it from his or her point of view.
Once, I was feeling sorry for myself because Reg had not told me he loved me. Lately I ask him, “Do you love me?’’ He teases me and says, “I told you I loved you when we got married. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” I do not get offended because I know he is teasing, but in the beginning, it was not that way. He was building our house. He would work all day at his job. Then he would come home and lay bricks at night. He did not want to hear my prattle about what went wrong during the day, and I was offended. One night, he let me have a glimpse into his way of thinking. He said, “Look at those bricks. Every one of those bricks say, ‘I love you.’ I am not good with words. I work with my hands.” I walked away feeling sheepish and proud at the same time. There were hundreds of bricks in that wall. If every one of those bricks meant "I love you," I was the most loved wife in the territory. I felt sheepish because I had not recognized the fact that he was saying I love you in his own way.
I know times have changed and men and women’s jobs are blurred, but the principle is still the same. It is important to spend time thinking about how your spouse feels appreciated and send love messages in that direction. Sometimes we expect our spouse to know what we need, but the river only runs downhill if you adjust the water flow in some way. It is OK to ask for what you need. It is OK to say, “Honey, would you take care of the baby while I clear the table?” instead of fuming while you hold the baby and clear the table, thinking, “He is such a slob. He never helps me.” Perhaps it never occurred to your spouse to help. It is easy to make judgments and act on our own assumptions. It is much harder to try to understand from another’s point of view.
This morning, as my husband wiped down the door frames in the bathroom, he said, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” He was in his own way letting me know that he had taken responsibility for the dirty door frame, and he did not expect me to do the cleaning even though I knew it was my job. He noticed the problem and was willing to fix it because it is his way of saying, “I love you.”
As the new year dawns, let it be a year of building strong and lasting relationships. Let it be a time of bringing the happiness you seek into the lives of those around you.